Khartsyzsk, a city in the Donetsk region, is only 130 kilometers from Mariupol. But for the past eight years, with the areas under separate control and travel between them tightly regulated, Christians in the two cities may as well have lived on opposite sides of the world. Now, as the battle lines and the control of the surrounding territories continue to shift around them, Christians from Mariupol and the Donetsk region are making the most of the present opportunity to comfort, encourage, and support each other through face-to-face visits, despite the danger.
“Control of Mariupol has shifted, and control over the Donetsk region remains divided, but the churches in those regions remain part of the one body of Christ,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley. “Many of the Christians in Mariupol were displaced by the fighting, fleeing to other areas still under Ukrainian control. Even though they are displaced, they are using the opportunity to visit and bring aid and encouragement to Christians in the parts of Donetsk region under Ukrainian control.”
At the same time, says Representative Foley, travel between Mariupol and Khartsyzsk, a city in the Donetsk region under DPR control, is now possible for the first time in eight years. “So small groups of Christians who remained in Mariupol have recently been traveling to Khartsyzsk to reconnect with their brothers and sisters after the long separation,” says Representative Foley.
Voice of the Martyrs Korea operates “Голос Мучеников – Корея”, a Russian language edition of its popular Facebook page on Christian persecution. Representative Foley says the organization also maintains private channels of communication with Christians and churches who are currently in areas of armed conflict, including those in Mariupol and Donetsk.
According to Representative Foley, Christians in the areas of heavy fighting are seeking more than food, shelter, and safety. “They are seeking what the true church has always sought since Acts chapter 2,” she says. “They want to join together in one another’s homes to break bread, share fellowship, pray, and devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching.”
Representative Foley says that believers who live in places of armed conflict need more than humanitarian aid. “They need real face-to-face contact with other believers,” says Representative Foley. “Reports from Christians in the Donetsk region say that it is hard to know what is the greater help—receiving the humanitarian aid or being able to see these brothers and sisters in Christ face-to-face.”
Representative Foley says that the motivation for these visits goes much deeper than simply delivering aid. “Romans 13:7 says Christians are to render honor to whom honor is due. Mariupol Christians have told us that they are undertaking these trips in order to show honor to Christians in the Donetsk Region.”
Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea learned of a visit by Mariupol Christians to Khartsyzsk to see Evgeniy Pushkov, a Christian music minister and church leader who has served in choral ministry in the Donetsk region for 42 years, including 11 spent in prison and exile for his faith under the Soviet Union. “We asked the Mariupol Christians why they went to visit Mr. Pushkov, and they answered simply, ‘Because it is Mr. Pushkov. He is a very famous preacher to Christians in the region who worked very hard in the fields of the evangelism for four decades.’”
Representative Foley says she believes trips like this bring honor not only to Christian leaders but also to God. “When Christians risk everything not just to deliver aid but to be together for the purpose of worship, fellowship, and mutual edification, we can see how precious the body of Christ really is. For Christians, life is about more than physical needs. Mr. Pushkov recited some of his Christian poetry for the visitors. For Christians, words of life are an essential form of medicine.”
Representative Foley says that the Mariupol believers have responded to the destruction of their city as a call to mission. “Many Mariupol Christians have themselves been displaced from their homes, and more than 10,000 deaths are still expected by the end of the year in that city of 170,000. But in the midst of their difficulties the Mariupol believers have set out on missions to aid and encourage whichever other believers they are able to reach.” says Representative Foley.
According to Representative Foley, Christians in the rest of the world should learn from these Mariupol believers.
“Church attendance in many countries is still down following the COVID pandemic,” says Representative Foley. “We need to re-learn what a precious privilege it is to be able to gather face-to-face. Believers in Mariupol and Donetsk are placing the unity and fellowship of the body of Christ above everything else, even above their own personal safety.”
Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea is providing emergency assistance to local church congregations and individual Christians who are continuing to engage in faithful witness during the present Russia/Ukraine conflict. “Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s calling is to help support the tiny churches and Christians that are faithfully witnessing to the priority of the kingdom of God above all earthly kingdoms, despite the likelihood that it may cost them their lives,” she says.
Donations can be made to the Ukraine Emergency Fund at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or via electronic transfer to:
국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303
예금주 (Account Holder): (사)순교자의소리
Please include the phrase “Ukraine” with the donation.